Monday, September 21, 2020

MMGM: Zanzibar


There's a paradox in publishing: The type of books that teachers and parents are clamoring for is hard to find.

Example: chapter books. Agents generally don’t represent chapter book writers because their books are not lucrative. But if you are a parent or a teacher, you know how necessary these books are, and how many books are needed to fill that short frame of time when a child is reading them. Voracious readers can go through tons of chapter books, and yet it is so hard to find good one.

Even though my kids are well beyond this stage, I still feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when I find one.

Today I’m going to share with you one I recently discovered: Zanzibar by Catharina Valckx.

 Synopsis (from Amazon):

Achille LeBlab, special correspondent, knocks at Zanzibar’s door. He wants to write an article about an exceptional character. Is Zanzibar exceptional?

The lizard seems to doubt it. “Aside from your poetic name, I’m afraid you’re a very ordinary crow.”

That night Zanzibar decides: “I haven’t done anything remarkable yet, but it’s never too late!” He comes up with an idea for an incredible feat. First he must find a camel...

What to enjoy:

1.   Zanzibar: I never thought I’d enjoy reading about a crow, but there’s something about a name that is hard to pronounce that endears you to him. I can see new readers being excited to read such a long word and find the place on a map.

2.   Whimsical text: Great children’s books don’t take themselves too seriously. This book reminded me a bit of Flora and Ulysees and the lovely Barbar books from my childhood.

3.  Relatable characters and situations: Valckx writes in a childlike way and understands her audience. And who cannot relate to the goal to do something exceptional?

4.  Fun illustrations add to the text: Valckx was an artist before she took up writing and it shows.

5.  Humor adults can enjoy: There’s just enough humor for grown-ups—especially the reporter jokes—that adults reading over their child’s or student’s shoulder will enjoy as well.

Image from author's website

About the Author: Catharina Valckx is a writer living in Amsterdam, although she grew up in France, so although her parents are Dutch, she writes more easily in French. Most of her books are in French, and Zanzibar is a translation from the French by Gecko, a New Zealand press. I really enjoyed exploring her website, which has lovely illustrations done by students during school visits in France under “This and That.” If you are a writer, be sure to read her speech when she received the Children’s Bookstore prize for “Paws Up!”

I especially loved this quote from her speech:

“I am reluctant to saddle young infants with a very sad story. I won’t bother them with ecological problems, injustice or poverty. I feel that they first need to learn to love the world, the people, the animals and plants, and be able to believe that they are not the only ones who do that.”

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.


  1. I had a hard time finding good chapter books when my daughter was at that age. This one sounds like a winner.

  2. I had no idea that author's of chapter books have trouble getting agents to represent them. Glad to see this book for my 6-year-old great grandson -- sounds humorous! It's hard to find good chapter books, although one publisher sent me five to review this summer -- and I was thrilled. I happen to be reviewing a chapter book today, and I realize how much the authors have to self-promote. Great review!

  3. Love the final quote by the author. I agree it is hard to find good chapter books. This one will surely fill part of that void and it sounds like a perfect read-aloud. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. I've been filling up on chapter books all summer (and there are a lot out there) - this looks like one I will have to read. I love saying the word "Zanzibar" - reminds me of a very old sci-fi book.

  5. Thanks for sharing this one. There's something magical about saying the word "Zanzibar". I love how it rolls off the tongue. :)

  6. This sounds like a fun book! I'm not terribly informed about the publishing world, so I had no idea most agents don't represent chapter books—that definitely seems like an issue. I love your quote from Valckx! Thanks for the great review!

  7. your observation that kid/parents/teachers love chapter books is spot on. It's not really agents who shy away, but publishers, which is why agents are less keen. Commercial success with CB is tied to them not being stand alone but a series. Series are often conceived in-house. This was true even in the days of yore.
    Great title, Zanzibar :D

  8. Great quote from the author. That is good advice. I LOVE the cover on this one. And I do love good chapter books. Chapter books are such an important step in making life-long readers. I'm going to find this one and read it. Thanks for your thoughtful review.